Regulations, farmers and the law
© Thinkstock

The Regulatory Accountability Act, a bipartisan measure introduced by Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Reddit hires first lobbyists Senate panel approves bill compelling researchers to ‘hack’ DHS MORE (R-Ohio) and Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampWells Fargo chief defends bank's progress in tense Senate hearing Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Red-state Dems need more from Trump before tax embrace MORE (D-N.D.), would restore reason to our nation’s regulatory process. Regardless of what anyone believes about a specific issue—safety, health or the environment—the underlying regulatory system should be open, transparent and fair. Today, it isn’t.

Regulatory reform is a priority for America’s farmers and ranchers, who, in spite of documented environmental improvement, are under siege by federal regulations that have exploded in scope and severity, often in defiance of law. Farmers and ranchers are vulnerable to this regulatory overreach because our work is so connected to natural resources.

ADVERTISEMENT
Regulations are necessary, of course, to public health, environmental quality and even market fairness. But, when regulatory actions ignore or surpass the laws on which they are based, the results can be disastrous.

Overreaching bureaucrats tell farmers they can’t plow dry fields. They designate dry ditches as navigable waterways. They classify whole crops such as corn, soybean and wheat as “chemical hazards.”

Today, even in light of a reform-minded administration and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s “Back to Basics” agenda, federal regulators would be similarly able to skirt the law to wield inordinate power. Agencies have repeatedly plowed through the legal constraints placed on them by Congress.

Under an explicit provision in law (7 USC 136w), the EPA administrator was bound by statute to furnish to the secretary of Agriculture and congressional committees a copy of “the final form” of a FIFRA regulation before approving it for publication in the Federal Register. EPA did submit a regulation, just not the final one it sent for publication. Regulators said they did not agree that the earlier version of the regulation had “to be identical to the final version codified in the Code of Federal Regulations.”

The only possible conclusion? The EPA believed it could unilaterally disregard Congress’ preconditions on the agency’s power to regulate.

This was hardly an isolated incident. After the Government Accountability Office found that EPA violated the law by engaging in covert propaganda in support of the Waters of the U.S. rule, the agency had a similar reaction. “We will pay attention to what the GAO has said,” former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthyGina McCarthyTrump plans to roll back environmental rule everyone agrees on EPA chief to visit Colorado mine spill site In the fight between Rick Perry and climate scientists, Perry is winning MORE told the House Agriculture Committee. “We just disagree that it was a problem.”

In the WOTUS rule, EPA also misread the Supreme Court ruling in Rapanos. The agency stretched the statutory language of the Clean Water Act and ignored the vital role Congress reserved in law for states to protect our waters. Is it any wonder that more than 30 states sued the agency?

The EPA is by no means the lone wolf in this regulatory spectacle.

Several years ago, when the Labor Department proposed changing regulations governing child labor in agriculture, it came to light that the department’s own handbook, available publicly on its website, contradicted its own proposal.

Similarly, for years the U.S. Forest Service has dogged federal permit holders to share or hand over private water rights to the federal government. Such intimidation not only threatens to compromise owners’ lawful state property rights, but also contradicts a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding those rights.

Against this backdrop, late last year the American Farm Bureau Federation and 52 other agricultural organizations asked Congress to work in a bipartisan fashion to reform the rulemaking process. We laid out our rallying principles--more transparency, the use of sound science, accountability in agencies’ use of economic and supporting data and a level playing field for all stakeholders--in a white paper that can be found at bit.ly/AFBFRegReform.

However, first and foremost, we want regulatory reform to be bipartisan.

Over the last four decades, presidents from both parties—Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama—have issued executive orders establishing how agencies should conduct rulemaking. Costs, benefits, transparency and federalism all figured prominently in efforts to fix an increasingly unaccountable bureaucracy. Articulated by presidents of such differing viewpoints as Ronald Reagan and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaGeorge W. Bush honors father at benefit for hurricane victims Dem senator: ‘I miss every one of’ our last 5 presidents All five living former presidents appear at hurricane relief benefit concert MORE, the orders signal bipartisan recognition of a serious problem.

A regulatory process that is fair, open and transparent for all will better protect our environment, our safety and our public health. Reform also will strengthen the American principle as espoused by another president, John Adams, that the United States is a nation of laws rather than men – or in today’s case, rather than a nation of overzealous regulators who shrug off the law.

Zippy Duvall, a cattle and poultry farmer from Georgia, is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.